Happiness Hack – Do Gooder ‘n Feel Gooder

Twelve months of Happiness Hacks are in a 2019 calendar (wait for a 50% off coupon to buy it – we did!

For this “hack” get yourself a mouse.

When you do something for someone else, the act in itself makes you feel good.

Even watching someone else do a good deed will lift your mood.

I know I feel good whenever I do or say something nice to someone else.  When I worked in an outpatient psychiatric program I decided to see if this would hold true for the patients in my group.  Luckily for me they were open to test this out. We talked about different ways of doing something kind for themselves and others.  

On the first day patients spent an hour doing something  nice for themselves and all self-reported feeling good. The second day they spent an hour doing something kind for someone else. All of them said they felt even better doing something kind for someone else than doing something nice for themselves.   

Not only feeling emotionally better research shows that when we engage in good deeds, our stress is reduced.

It is quick an easy to try this out yourself.

PA

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Your Brain on Chocolate Chip Cookies

What is your preference?

Soft and gooey?
Crisp and crunchy?
Semisweet chocolate?
Milk chocolate?
Bittersweet?

Some research suggests that ingredients in chocolate chip cookies may have additive properties. Take sugar: Evidence in humans shows that sugar and sweetness can induce rewards and cravings comparable in magnitude to those induced by addictive drugs, including cocaine.

Oh Noooooooooo

Then there’s the chocolate, which, in addition to sugar, contains small amounts of a compound known as anandamide. Anandamide is also a brain chemical that targets the same cell receptors as THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the active ingredient in marijuana that is responsible for its mood-altering effects.
(That’s not to say chocolate will produce the same “high” as marijuana, but there may be a chemical basis for the pleasure we get from eating chocolate.)
“According to Gary Wenk, director of neuroscience undergraduate programs at the Ohio State University and author of “Your Brain on Food,” high-fat, sugar-rich cookies will raise the level of anandamide in our brains independent of what’s in the cookie, because it’s our body’s response to eating such a tasty item. “The fat and sugar combine to induce our addiction as much as does the anandamide,” Wenk said. “It’s a triple play of delight.”‘

Oh Nooooooooo

Texture and flavor: Key to a cookie’s addictive characteristics

The flavor of chocolate chip cookies is “. . . a beautiful amalgam of caramelized butter and sugar,” the result of the browning of butter and caramelizing of sugar while it bakes. The combination of the toasted grain with the browned butter, caramelized sugar, vanilla and chocolate are “the beautiful rich flavors that blend together in a chocolate chip cookie.  And as the chocolate melts, it becomes more aromatic and punches up the flavor.”*

A happy indulgence

“The main thing is not to think of food as good food and bad food. It’s all good. It’s how much you eat of it,”
So whether it feels like a true “addiction” or not, indulging in a chocolate chip cookie or two should be a happy experience.

Oh Yessssssssss

*Gail Vance Civille, founder and president of Sensory Spectrum, a consulting firm that helps companies learn how sensory cues drive consumer perceptions of products.

It’s “that” time year – Isolation, Not Loneliness, Shortens Life

We often believe that during holidays everyone, except us, is having a wonderful festive time, surrounded by loving family, caring friends, filled with fun, festivity and happiness.

At the risk of “bah humbug” what I most often heard from clients was holidays were filled with stress, trepidation, family feuds or deep pain at being alone while everyone else seemingly was partying.  

Coupled with studies which suggest that the Christmas/New Year’s holidays are a risk factor for cardiac and noncardiac mortality.* the United Kingdom study on loneliness and isolation of 6,500  had an interesting conclusion:

Loneliness hurts, but social isolation can kill you. 

“The study, by a team at University College London, comes after decades of research showing that both loneliness and infrequent contact with friends and family can, independently, shorten a person’s life. The scientists expected to find that the combination of these two risk factors would be especially dangerous.”

“We were thinking that people who were socially isolated but also felt lonely might be at particularly high risk,” says Andrew Steptoe, a professor of psychology at University College London.”

“To find out, the team studied 6,500 men and women ages 52 and older. All of them had answered a questionnaire back in 2004 or 2005 that assessed both their sense of loneliness and how much contact they had with friends and family. The researchers looked to see what happened to those people over the next seven or eight years.”

“And Steptoe says he was surprised by the result. “Both social isolation and loneliness appeared initially to be associated with a greater risk of dying,” he says. “But it was really the isolation which was more important.”‘

‘”At first, it looked like people who reported greater levels of loneliness were more likely to die, Steptoe says. But closer analysis showed that these people were also more likely to have other risk factors, like being poor and having existing health problems. Once those factors were taken into account, the extra risk associated with loneliness pretty much disappeared, Steptoe says.”‘

“But people who spent very little time with friends and family, or at social events, were more likely to die regardless of income or health status the team reports in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.”

“It’s not clear why social isolation is linked to mortality. But one possibility is that having other people around has practical benefits as you get older, Steptoe says. For example, they may push you to go see a doctor if you are having symptoms like chest pain, he says. And if you were to lose consciousness, they would call for help.”

Do Facebook friends count? How about texting?

“Other researchers say they are surprised and not necessarily convinced by the new study, even though they say it’s large and well-done.”

‘”It doesn’t negate the loneliness work that’s been done to date,” says Bert Uchino, a University of Utah psychology professor. He says this study may have reached a different conclusion than earlier ones because people’s definition of loneliness is changing in the Internet age.”‘

‘”People … may think that they’re connected to other people because they’re on Facebook,” Uchino says. So they may not report feeling lonely. But that sort of connection, he says, may not have the health benefits of direct contact with other people.”

*https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/abs/10.1161/01.cir.0000151424.02045.f7   (There are multiple explanations for this association, including the possibility that holiday-induced delays in seeking treatment play a role in producing the twin holiday spikes.)

http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2013/03/26/175283008/maybe-isolation-not-loneliness-shortens-life

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Your brain has a DELETE “button”

I always explained to the patients I worked with in the hospital there was one important thing to understand about how to maximize their brain’s potential which can lead them to be more positive, motivated, understand what it takes to learn new skills and  be in control of how they respond to life’s events:

“What fires together, wires together”*

Brain neurons that fire together wire together. What this means is that the more often you use a specific neuro-pathway in your brain, the stronger the connections along that pathway become. It is like making a path through a field:  Walk through once and there may be a suggestion of where you went; Walk the same path many times, it becomes a clear trail, and the easiest way to go.

When the same neurons fire in your brain, it means you brain will find it easy to use this path, and will get “good” at taking it. The more you practice the easier, quicker and more automatic a new skill, learning language or responding to others with compassion becomes.

Your brain also works in “reverse”, unlearning old connections.

Your Brain Has A “Delete” Button 

“Imagine your brain is a garden, except instead of growing flowers, fruits, and vegetables, you grow synaptic connections between neurons. These are the connections that neurotransmitters like dopamine, seratonin, and others travel across.”

“Glial cells” are the gardeners of your brain–they act to speed up signals between certain neurons. But other glial cells are the waste removers, pulling up weeds, killing pests, raking up dead leaves. Your brain’s pruning gardeners are called “microglial cells.” They prune your synaptic connections. The question is, how do they know which ones to prune?”

“Researchers are just starting to unravel this mystery, but what they do know is the synaptic connections that get used less get marked by a protein, C1q (as well as others). When the microglial cells detect that mark, they bond to the protein and destroy–or prune–the synapse.”

“This is how your brain makes the physical space for you to build new and stronger connections so you can learn more.”

A lot of this pruning happens when you sleep, which is one reason sleep is so important, especially when you are learning new things. This pruning leaves your brain ready to make new connections. This pruning also happens during naps. A 10- or 20-minute nap gives your microglial gardeners the time to clear away unused connections and leave space to grow new ones.

Thinking with a sleep-deprived brain is like hacking your way through an overgrown jungle with overlapping paths and no light getting through . . . slow-going, exhausting.  Thinking on a well-rested brain is like strolling through a well-groomed park . . . the paths are clear, connect at distinct junctions, you can see where you’re going.

How To Use Your Brain’s Delete Button

Be Mindful Of What You’re Mindful Of

You actually have some control over what your glial-cell brain gardeners decide to prune while you sleep – the synaptic connections you don’t use while awake get marked for recycling.  Those you focus on get “watered and oxygenated”. So be mindful of what you’re thinking about.

To take advantage of your brain’s natural gardening system, think about the things that are important to you. Your “glial-gardeners” will strengthen those connections and prune the ones that are not important.

(PA)

*Sigrid Lowell coined the phrase“What fires together, wires together”.

References:

Judah Pollack, co-author of The Chaos Imperative, and Olivia Fox Cabana, author of The Charisma Myth.

https://www.fastcompany.com/3059634/your-brain-has-a-delete-button-heres-how-to-use-it